How To Study God’s Word

If the subject of Scripture, and especially Bible versions, bores you, turn away now. Turn away and rethink your relationship with our Lord Jesus. I won’t say you aren’t saved, but to use a common analogy, you’re trying to live your spiritual life on gospel milk. Can you imagine an adult who has lived only on milk all his life?

Now, to the meat.

I like to think of myself as immune to controversy, but the dispute between the King James Only people and everyone else keeps me engaged in the stupidity. First, I like the KJV, and the NKJV, the ESV, the HCS(Holman Christian Standard), the old RSV, and on occasion, even the NIV. When I need more in-depth study I reference more literal versions like the Amplified Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, and the Expanded Translation to obtain a broader sense of what the “experts” think about any particular passage. And if that doesn’t cut it, I resort to commentaries—just remember, though, that commentaries are nothing more than some guy’s comments(duhh!) on Scripture passages. And if I need to dig deeper still, I access the original language lexicons, but unfortunately they aren’t cheap, let alone free.

With no offense intended to the KJV-only folks, I have to say all Bible translations and versions are the products of fallible human-type beings. Even the hallowed King James Version has been corrected extensively since it was first published in 1611. In other words (don’t stop reading if you take offense at this), all Biblical source texts and translations contain errors, ranging from just a few in the better ones, to absolutely apostate errors in “translations” such as the New World Translation from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most conservative, evangelical scholars say only the original manuscripts were inerrant, and since those are long lost, we do our best with what we have. I believe God honors our intentions and keeps us in his Way, despite all that humans can do to mess it up.

So, how can a novice Bible student know she’s getting God’s perfect truth from her NIV Study Bible? By studying carefully and frequently, comparing various resources to find the renderings that most closely align with the balance of Scripture. But there’s a two-pronged catch: First, you have to know, or at least have a working knowledge of, the Bible. That takes time and commitment. Second, you—or, at least I—can’t do such diligent study on a tight schedule, so read the entire passage you need to cover, then return to any portions that need clarification. Caution: The more you know about God’s Word, the more you will know you don’t know about it. That’s because the finite number of words within the Bible become, through the Holy Spirit’s influence, an infinite resource.

While that is a relatively safe Bible study bet, Christ-followers must go an important step further to gain that Holy Spirit influence; always, before you start any Bible study, commit your every thought to its Author, the Lord Jesus Christ. And never trust your own opinions, ’cause they’re likely wrong. Instead, let God lead as you prayerfully submit every question and conclusion to him. To do that, you must pray for God to reveal your heart’s purpose, your inner motives, and willingly repent of any hidden intent to subvert Scripture and prove your preconceptions right.

Now, that covers your attitude toward, and your approach to, God’s word. There are, however, way too many individual methods and resources for Bible study to dwell on each of them, so read on for a list of links to the better ones.

Bible Study Links

  • e-Sword is the premier, FREE downloadable Bible study tool. Author Rick Meyers’ software philosophy is, “Freely you have received, freely give,” so avail yourself of this simple, flexible, broad-ranging software package with many public domain resources, and access to many other premium resources. And when you get hooked on e-Sword, consider donating to its support; Rick has undertaken this as his full-time occupation, and believe me, it’s worth way more than the occasional twenty bucks. Now, head over to YouTube for everything you can imagine about e-Sword.
  • Bible Gateway used to be pretty good, but recently their major site overhaul has made it even better! It’s an excellent resource for most Bible study. Searchable for all but the most specialized, scholarly word studies—stuff most of us couldn’t use anyway.
  • Bible Dot Org‘s new Lumina Bible study feature offers a set of slick, convenient tools to get you started toward the hard stuff.
  • Bible Hub, with oodles of Bible translations, study tools, topical listings and more, arranged in a pleasing and common-sense GUI.
  • Blue-Letter Bible has also undergone a recent overhaul, both streamlining its GUI(graphic user interface) and expanding its available resources; I doubt you’ve ever seen a free list to match this one. Seem confusing or complicated? Check out the video tutorials.
  • OpenBible dot Info, with their unique Bible Geocoding, Topical Bible, Labs(interface experiments), and Blog.
  • StudyLight.org offers ever-expanding lists of resources that you have to see to believe.
  • Bible Study, if you’re a seventh-day sabbatarian. You know, they’re like the New Testament Judaizers that Paul encountered at every turn. No offense meant.
  • Christianity Today‘s Bible Studies if you like canned studies, and there’s nothing wrong with that if you intend to progress into your own word studies.
  • InTouch Ministries’ Bible Studies for more topical studies.
  • CrossWalk dot com for Bible study plans, tips and tools, Bible study notes submitted by their community, and lots of topical articles.

Want more options? Here’s the Google search I did to come up with some of the above sites. Well, what are you waiting for. This is like Christmas for anyone hungry for a deeper knowledge of God’s Word and relationship with our Heavenly Father. Go ahead! Tear it open. Have fun.

Warning, you may find this post offensive …

But only if you’re part of the problem.

God’s church has the bad habit of sweeping sensitive or distasteful issues under the tabu-rug. Such issues vary by denomination and congregation, but perhaps the most universally swept issue is pornography use.

A quick definition of Porn is: printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings. Usually, “printed or visual material” is interpreted as photographs or graphic images, but is that assumption realistic?

Years ago, I enjoyed reading thriller-type novels by such authors as Ludlum, Cussler, Patterson, King and Sheldon. And don’t get me started on the movies of the same genre. One common element in such fiction is vivid portrayals of violence and gore, usually motivated by “righteous” revenge. Brothers, “righteous” and “revenge” are oxymorons. The enemy of your soul places those stories before your eyes to elicit your sympathy, causing you to justify violent vengeance. Another common element of such fiction is erotic descriptions of sex and seduction. If you call yourself a Christian, you have no business placing such words and images before your eyes. Just because it isn’t technically porno doesn’t mean it’s okay.

And on the distaff side …

Ladies, stop poking your husbands if you read “steamy” romance novels, which are nothing less than verbal porn. You read them for the stories and not the sex? That’s like your husband’s claim of “reading” Playboy Magazine for the literary value alone. Ladies, those stories are nothing more than “cookie-cutter” literature, mass-produced to separate you from both your money and your morals.

Confession Time

Apostle Paul suffered from a physical “thorn in the flesh.” My biggest thorn in the flesh is my addiction to “soft porn.” Some would say, “Why, that’s not so bad; could be worse.”

Indeed it could, but it doesn’t have to be worse to stand between me and my Savior. Even though it may not cost my eternal salvation—note, I said “may not”—that garbage stunts my spiritual growth. By now I’ve realized that I’m stuck with my taste for “morality’s booze,” but by Christ’s righteous power it doesn’t have to rule my life.

I’ve coined the phrase, “Soft porn makes soft Christians,” and I don’t want to be a soft Christian. I praise my Lord and Savior for opening my spiritual eyes to what I place before my physical eyes, allowing me to fully appreciate its ugliness. Any victory God is giving me hasn’t come easily; I still struggle with the temptation, but through my persistent supplication he is giving me victory over that particular tool of Satan.

The Bible never mentions pornography, but it does cover fornication quite well. Not the same thing? The Greek for “fornication” comes from the same root word (porneia) as our word, “pornography.” Below, find listed some of the Biblical passages dealing with fornication and lust:

1 John 2:16[Full Chapter]
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

Matthew 5:32
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Matthew 19:9
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

John 8:41
Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

Proverbs 11:6
The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.

Matthew 5:27
[ Lust ] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

1 Thessalonians 4:5
not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;

2 Peter 2:10
and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones,

If you feel condemnation for your use of porn, that’s just your enemy hitting you with the ol’ one-two. First, he stunts your spiritual growth, then he turns your God-given conviction into condemnation, gaining two victories for one sin. Pretty clever, eh? Resolve to accept and submit to God’s conviction, but tell your sneaky enemy, “Be gone, Satan!” By God’s redemptive power, Satan’s ploys are wasted on you.

 

Peace Like a River

Horatio G. Spafford had ample reason to feel anything but peace that day in 1873 as his ship carried him over the spot where his four daughters perished in a shipwreck a few weeks earlier. Rather than sink into the slough of despond, however, he penned the following words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) The world freely gives no peace at all, but occasionally it reluctantly grants temporary lapses in violence. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, had something entirely different in mind, something those invested in this world system cannot grasp.

This morning I awoke feeling awash in a river of peace. God has taught me—and continues teaching me—that feelings aren’t facts; a hard lesson for any natural human being to learn. But God’s peace is entirely unnatural, so when that is what we feel, it must be from him.

During that unnatural moment, I pictured the river of peace as like the Columbia River, carrying millions of gallons of water swiftly from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. If all that water just lay there with no circulation it would become brackish, a breeding place for mosquitoes and disease. But it moves, slowly enough to be safe for navigation, but swiftly enough to keep it fresh, washing all its organic matter out to meet the purifying sea water. Like the mighty Columbia, God’s peace washes all the potentially putrefying matter from our lives, refreshing us moment by moment as only his Prince of Peace can do.

Please, don’t fall for the world’s counterfeit peace, but hold out for the unconditional, sanctified peace that only Christ can give.

C.S. Lewis Answers the Question, “Is God Despotic?”

“Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted. He demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration. Do we suppose that they can do Him any good, or fear, like the chorus in Milton, that human irreverence can bring about ‘His glory’s diminution’? A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell. But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces. If we do not, that only shows that what we are trying to love is not yet God— though it may be the nearest approximation to God which our thought and fantasy can attain. Yet the call is not only to prostration and awe; it is to a reflection of the Divine life, a creaturely participation in the Divine attributes which is far beyond our present desires. We are bidden to ‘put on Christ’, to become like God. That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little.”

If that excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain seems a bit long, read it anyway. And maybe read it again, till it all soaks in. Uncle Jack expressed complex thoughts in the simplest possible language, without compromising their depth. The problem most of us have with his writing is we’re lazy, or somehow the significance of his words sail far over our heads.

The first sentence in the above excerpt introduces and defines it. The central clause of the next sentence, “our obedience,” summarizes God’s requirement of us. Then Lewis goes on to point out our rebellion’s trivial nature—trivial in the grand scheme, but fatal to us.

Finally, Lewis points out the benefits we reap by loving God according to his definition of the word. He didn’t include a Bible reference for the last bit, but I’m happy to correct that deficit:

Romans 13:12-14 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

Galatians 3:26-29 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

1 Peter 1:2-4 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Talk about precious promises; they don’t get much better than that, for anyone who has committed to following Christ.

Words of Christ in Red

Opinion-time, everyone. The bug bit me while I was studying Proverbs chapter eighteen—rather odd, as it contains no “words of Christ.” But that’s where it gets interesting; Jesus Christ is God’s eternal Word in the flesh, and he authored the verbal (both the ancient, oral tradition, and the written) Word of God from start to finish (John 1:1-18, 2 Timothy 3:16). In view of these facts, can any part of God’s verbal Word not be Jesus’ words? Highlighting Jesus’ words in the gospels implies that they are somehow more reliable or have more authority than the balance of Scripture, which is theologically unsound.

That said, I understand how novices in Bible-study might prefer “Red-Word” Bible editions, but I would also caution them against assigning those red words undue significance. There is a heresy that says Jesus’ words carry divine authority, but the rest were written by (sexist) men, most especially that male-chauvinist-pig, Paul.

To deny any part of God’s Word is to deny its Author, and we wouldn’t want to do that, would we?

Brain Dead

Well, not brain dead in the literal sense, but I feel that way. Unlike Homer Simpson, though, I fully realize my current depth of stupidity. A couple of circumstances are conspiring against my creative thought processes: First, a case (not a half-case or a six-pack) of asthmatic bronchitis is keeping me planted in my chair; even though I’m on the mend I am anything but peppy. Second, my “stay-awake” medicine is awaiting my doctor’s prior approval, leaving me firing on half my mental cylinders. How can one lousy ream of red-tape take so long to be completed?

I have so much to be thankful for, however, that even mentioning these trivial trials seems ungrateful. That leaves me wondering how I would handle real hardship. But I know my loving heavenly Father will give me the grace to accept, and spiritually prosper under, whatever he allows to come my way. I love his promise through Apostle Paul’s words: And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20)

Retrospective Christianity

Who would think that I, as into tech-stuff as I am, would pitch hindsight for our walk of faith?

David McCasland, of Our Daily Bread, suggests that, “God’s guidance in the past gives courage for the future.” And he supported his thesis with Jeremiah 6:13-20, where the prophet decried his people’s greed and false dealing, religious flippancy and lack of shame. He could have been addressing many in today’s church (but not me, of course).

Lest God would be forced to punish and overthrow them:

16 Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Does that mean we need to go back to the Mosaic Law and abide by all the statutes and ordinances? If you think so, you haven’t studied God’s New Covenant, delivered through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus’ blood freed us from the law’s tyranny so we could walk in newness of life—God’s divine life.

Does that mean we should walk in nostalgia, worshiping the “good old days?” Remember, longing for the past is the most curious sort of lust and idolatry, in that its hunger and thirst can never be quenched. Besides, it can make you unresponsive to today’s needs that God wants to address through you.

Living retrospectively means we learn from the past to prepare for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And we have so many ways of doing that: Of course, the Bible is where we start, as it tells us of God’s historical dealings with his people through his commands, and his responses to their depravity. Then we must learn from past saints, both those who lived by faith under the Old Covenant, and those who lived by faith in Christ (not only canonized saints, but all those sanctified by faith in Jesus), who devoted their lives to rightly dividing the Word of truth. And finally we must learn from the faithful saints of today, the elders who have proved their spiritual zeal for their Savior.

Living retrospectively also means we must learn from our own victories and defeats, with joy in the hope of the ultimate victory that Jesus won for us at such great cost.

If that means we have to look back with blinders, like a race horse that tends to get distracted and stumble, put on those spiritual blinders so you will neither long for past depravity, nor submit to condemnation for what is already under Jesus’ blood.

In your retrospection, never live for the past. Learn from it.

C.S. Lewis on the Impermanence of Feelings

If “falling in love” happens, so will “falling out of love.” As C.S. Lewis said, “The great thing is to continue to believe when the feeling is absent: and these periods do quite as much for one as those when the feeling is present.”

It’s all about trusting in God, and not in feelings. Christ-followers are just as apt to “fall in love” as flesh-followers. The difference is the foundation upon which said love is built.

We fallible, human-type beings are going to feel emotions, but we must remember that said emotions are just as fallible as anything else in our lives—probably more so. If we think of emotions as nothing more than a temporary effect that endorphins have on our brains, we may be able to assign a more appropriate priority to them.

Does that sound cold and heartless? Actually, it’s anything but. Think about the “good” feelings you experience after exercise; you feel pumped, ready to take on the world. But what about the next day? You go back to the gym and repeat the process.

The emotions associated with love and hope are similarly transient, even though they effect your life far more profoundly than the generic, “good” feeling from exercise.

What I’m saying is, we must take the sensations of love and hope, and of any other emotional responses to spiritual facts, with a grain of salt. They are the icing on the cake of Biblical spirituality.

We must expect, and guard against, the natural discouragement of failing to see in ourselves all that we want from God. I can think of two Bible passages that bear directly on that: “Hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees?” (Romans 8:24) and, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8).

Remember, dissatisfaction with your spiritual growth is great, but discouragement is from the flesh, and condemnation is Satan’s specialty.

In-Dependence Day

Yes, I realize this post’s title appears to be a typo, but it’s purposeful. I try to live in dependence on God. That’s “in,” not “with.” By living in dependence on God I reside in that state of dependence. As usual, Apostle John said it best when he quoted Jesus as sayig: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

This blog’s theme is based on John 15:1-11, so you shouldn’t be surprised at my pouncing on this opportunity. God’s Word, the creative, eternal, second Person of God, the Word he spoke to the Bible’s writers as a love-letter to us, and especially the Word incarnate in God’s only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, are all precious to me.

I pray you have found God’s three-fold Word precious to yourself as well. May you celebrate this In-Dependence Day with full commitment to dependence upon God, and devotion to the Biblical principles that made America, not perfect, but the “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

God’s Ten Outcomes

10SuggestionsWe have all seen the sign that says, “They’re not the ten suggestions,” or something like that. Christ-followers like to deface their car’s pristine paint jobs or bumpers with that, and many other messages, hoping it will soak through people’s sin-hardened skulls. Obviously, they intend the slogan as a humorous reminder, or even a revelation, and hope God will use it to make folks think deeper than their appetites.

While God phrased them as “Thou Shalts” and “Thou Shalt Nots,” I have it on good authority that God intended them as neither commandments nor suggestions:

Galatians 3:21-25 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. (22) But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (23) But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. (24) Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25) But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Theyer’s Greek Definitions  adds some insight to the Greek word translated as “tutor”:

paidagōgos
Thayer Definition:
1) a tutor, i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.

That opens a bunch of Biblically relevant thoughts, and here’s just a sample; Apostle Paul wrote a lot about the Mosaic Law’s role in God’s plan of salvation, which, oddly enough, could not save sinners. He referred to it as a judge, a curse, a witness of Christ, a ruler, an arouser of passions, an informer of sin, the strength of sin, and enmity with God.

Yet, with all that, Paul tells us that the law is not in itself evil, but is simply God’s tool for making us aware of our depravity. Of course Jesus, God’s own Son, provided the solution for that depravity, the way by which we might enter into a loving relationship with God Himself. That’s called reconciliation, because through sin we alienated ourselves to God for all time.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) He didn’t intend that statement as a plea for us to obey him, like some star crossed lover begging favors of the object of his affection. Jesus simply stated the outcome for those who love him like he loves us. You could switch the two clauses to better demonstrate their cause/effect relationship: “You will keep my commandments if you love me.”

We English-speakers do tend to get things backward.